Gary Rudman
Gary Rudman

There is No Option
Wednesday, January 04
A little over one year ago, our lives were very different. While I was diagnosed in May 2014 with a solitary isolated plasmacytoma , I was not diagnosed with multiple myeloma until 11 months later. My plasmacytoma, or tumor, was the size of a softball, and the nerves were 100 percent involved. Surgery was not an option.
MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas was our third opinion. The defining moment prior to diagnosis was a bone marrow biopsy. The results showed abnormal plasma cells. After three 30 cycles of a combination treatment, I was ready to push forward and start the stem cell transplant process. Time was ticking.
In April, my wife Robin realized the stem cell transplant would occur during the Lake Placid Ironman in July 2015. Robin’s training suffered, as she was with me for all my appointments, whether at home or at MD Anderson. Robin was in constant contact with Kelley, our team leader at the MMRF, who also managed Robin’s Ironman team, and was able to roll her Ironman entry to July 2016. This time, Robin was able to provide the focus and training required for Ironman.
We left our home in Columbia, SC, on July 5, 2015, and headed for Houston. Our car was packed as tight as can be. On the hitch was my Thule bike rack and my Cannondale.

The Ride 

Cycling became my therapy. During the days prior to the transplant, my lower back pain was intense. I was tired of constantly taking narcotics. On the bike, tucked down, the pain went away. For one to three hours, in the heat of Houston, I could focus upon what I loved. I was able to ride. It was me and the bike. Nothing else.
I knew the “ride” would soon come to a stop. Success from the stem cell transplant is not guaranteed. Prior to the transplant, there are numerous tests, scans and exams. The simplest way to put it is that the process is much like, “making the football team.” To make the team, you have to survive numerous “cuts.” It was better that Robin and I didn’t know that. This was a key factor.
Each day at MD Anderson was an adventure. Was I worried? No. I was in the best place in the world as far as I was concerned. I had complete faith and trust in the doctors, nurses and staff. Not worrying was very unlike me, but I was relaxed. I had one option: to kick cancer in the rear. Cancer is nothing more than a road bump that would soon be paved over. Cancer does not define you. You have to take ownership of what you have and RUN it into the ground.

On July 28, I made the “final cut.” I was admitted to the hospital. I was “on the team.” For the next 23 days, this was my new home. I had only one rule: Stay out of the bed! The only time I would get into bed was at night, or if I really wasn’t feeling good, and I hoped that would not happen often. I had a routine, and I stuck to it.
The heavy doses of chemotherapy would reset my immune system and my white blood cells would zero out. After the first dose of treatment, I was waiting to get sick. That’s all I knew and thought. Three, four, five hours passed. Nothing!
Another key factor to my transplant success was my fitness level. Five hours after my first chemo, I did my first 5K on the hospital ward. The second day, I walked a 10K. After the 10K, I got on my Cannondale on the bike stationary trainer and rode for 45 minutes. I have to tell you that WAS the best 45 minutes of spinning I had ever done. As for getting my bike in the hospital – persistence. I would not take NO for an answer!

My New Birthday 

On Aug. 4, I had my stem cell transplant. Very emotional. My new birthday.
On Aug. 28, I met with my stem cell doctor a week earlier than scheduled. It was like being part of a Charlie Brown video. Blah, Blah, Blah. Then my two favorite words were spoken by my favorite doctor: “complete Remission.” We all lost it. It was a crazy moment in time. It was a day I will never forget.
In November, Robin and I returned to Houston for my three-month checkup. Nothing but good news. Our oncologist then threw a wrench at us. Since I was doing well, our oncologist said I would be a great candidate for yet another clinical trial – my third. I couldn’t say no. This was too good to pass up.
In the past year, four new drugs have garnered FDA approval with the help and support from the MMRF. The efforts and desire to find a cure for multiple myeloma are simply outstanding. It is because of athletes involved in Team for Cures events and donors supporting fundraising efforts that these drugs  are now FDA approved. Ten years ago, a patient diagnosed with multiple myeloma did not have a very good prognosis. With the MMRF as an advocate for cancer research with the ultimate goal of finding a cure, multiple myeloma patients are living the “new normal” life.
Each day, when you are preparing for a run, bike ride or trail hike, you will be training and competing not only for yourself but for current and future multiple myeloma patients, as well as patients no longer with us. Please take a few seconds and remember. Remember that each patient, caregiver, friend, and loved one has a story.

Climbing Kilimanjaro  

Earlier this year, I was selected to be part of this 16-member team to include six patients to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. During the trek, and the months prior, our goals were to spread awareness for multiple myeloma and to raise funds for cancer research. On day six, when the team summits Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet, victory will be achieved. I can only imagine what it will be like at the summit. In time, I will soon know, for I will greet the summit with an open heart and a smile for all patients with us and for patients that have departed.
The time since my stem cell transplant has flown by. While I am not where I want to be in my competitive nature, I strive on every day, for I don’t have an option. My goal is simple, “to beat multiple myeloma into continued complete remission.” I do this each day with the best of my ability through a ridiculously positive attitude, intense exercise regimen, participation in clinical trials, and campaign to help patients in any way, shape or form. Multiple myeloma is an incurable blood cancer, but not for long.

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